HL Deb 08 June 1939 vol 113 cc340-82

4.36 p.m.

LORD SNELL rose to call attention to the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, since your Lordships last discussed the question of the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government there has been considerable diplomatic activity. There have also been apparent changes in the general situation. The noble Viscount, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, has himself been to Geneva, and I have therefore put upon the Order Paper the Motion that stands in my name in the hope that he may be able to give us some information and to allay some of the anxieties that we feel. I, of course, have to speak without knowledge such as the members of the Government possess, and on such a question I do not like to make words take the place of information; but there are few things that are harder to bear than that Olympian impatience and disdain that those on the other side seem to have when they think of all that they know and all that we do not know. So to-day I can only be a suppliant for such poor crumbs of knowledge as they may be willing to let fall from their table.

I frankly confess that I do not under-stand what the policy of His Majesty's Government is. Sometimes I cannot help thinking that it resembles the wind of heaven, which "bloweth where it listeth" but whence it cometh and whither it goeth no man knows, not even the Government themselves, and I am somewhat embarrassed because I am aware that the Government have been driven at long last to accept the main principles of collective security that we have so persistently commended to them. Whilst I cannot, therefore, wholly condemn or heartily approve of what they are doing, I find myself in a situation that somewhat cramps my style. There will, however, be no departure to-day from that useful restraint whose natural and habitual home is on these Benches. I cannot help noticing that the Government at the present time parade themselves with their new policy with all the pride that a young conscript has in his first uniform. He knows it does not belong to him, but his satisfaction on that account is not diminished. But in our innocence we are perplexed when we notice that a policy which, when we advocated it, was a policy of war likely to lead to immediate and irreparable disaster, became, when taken over by His Majesty's Government, a sure bulwark of world peace! Perhaps the noble Viscount when he speaks will explain how such a change has taken place without any change of the policy in question. For a long time we have been trying to persuade His Majesty's Government that collective security could be obtained in certain ways, and we had to exasperate them into activity. On this account we have been accused of every species of political misconduct except that of trying to encircle them with the big battalions that we have at our disposal. I do not complain, of course, that His Majesty's Government have at length adopted this comely and promising child of ours, but I am concerned at the way in which they are apparently trying to bring it up.

I want to ask today a few questions of His Majesty's Government. These are not framed in any controversial sense, but I beg to ask for information concerning a few major things concerning which your Lordships' House as a whole I think and the country generally are somewhat anxious. The first is in regard to Spain. I want to ask if the Government are entirely satisfied with the withdrawal of the Italian and German personnel from Spanish territory and whether that satisfaction extends also to the island of Majorca; whether there are any reserves remaining in those areas, if so what are their number; and also what is the position in Gibraltar, in Malta and Egypt and in the Mediterranean generally at the present time. In regard to war material, it seems to me that the situation is thoroughly unsatisfactory. The statement of the Prime Minister, for instance, in another place yesterday, almost reduces one to despair. The Anglo-Italian Agreement definitely said that all material would be withdrawn. If I may quote at greater length, it said: If evacuation has not been completed at the moment of termination of the Spanish Civil War all remaining Italian volunteers will forthwith leave Spanish territory and all Italian war material will simultaneously be withdrawn. Parliament assumed, and was assured, that that Agreement would be honoured, but it now appears that whilst those assurances were being given the Government knew that some portion of the war material would be sold or would be given to the Spanish Government, which we have some reason to suspect may have the same effect as if it were retained at the disposal of Germany or Italy.

I do not assume for a moment, and I hope the House will believe me when I say so, that the sense of honour of the Prime Minister or of any members of His Majesty's Government is less than that of anybody else in this nation. I do not assume that at all, but at the same time it does show the levity with which statements are made to Parliament on matters concerning which these qualifications have afterwards to be given. We were also told that the personnel in Spain were noble volunteers who had felt the urge to try to stop the onrush of Bolshevism in Europe. We never quite believed that on this side of the House, but now we notice in speeches made abroad the open gloating with which it is asserted that "I ordered German soldiers to go to Spain," and there is continuous and provocative reference to the victories that have been achieved over simple-minded democracies like our own. Well, that does not make very pretty reading, and I venture to ask the noble Viscount if he has anything in the way of information that he can give to us.

As regards Russia, there, too, the situation appears to change from day to day, and the delays that are taking place in arriving at a decision are at least disturbing. I hope the noble Viscount will be able on that matter also to help us with some information. It is quite natural, I submit to your Lordships, that Russia should be careful about what she does, and even suspicious of those with whom she is negotiating, not only because she must remember the odious campaign which has for so long been waged against her, but because she must remember the example of Prague which too readily accepted promises of help which were not in the end forthcoming. It is in any case rather pathetic to hear Mr. Molotov say that it is impossible to know even now whether they really want to end aggression. I am not assuming that His Majesty's Government are responsible for that delay. What I am saying is that one can well understand the caution with which Russian approaches this matter. She is not a political mendicant, she is not asking for a favour, but she wants to know, as we also want to know, precisely what liabilities she is undertaking.

The difficulties, I think, may be imagined, though I possess no knowledge about them. I cannot assume that His Majesty's Government, having agreed in principle to a system of co-operation, will hold it up by a narrow interpretation of its scope and its purpose. The difficulties probably arise in other quarters. It may be that Poland and some of the Balkan States have memories and interests and anxieties of their own, which can at any rate be respected, but we also have some very considerable anxieties here. We have given certain guarantees in that part of the world, and those guarantees can be regarded as satisfactory only if we have behind them the active co-operation and the good will of the great Russian nation. I hope that the noble Viscount will help us with some information on that matter.

Then there is the question of the Far East. The situation there seems very unsatisfactory. British ships are stopped and searched, officers are arrested and detained, soldiers apparently are stabbed to death, and the whole situation looks anxious and very unsatisfactory. I should like to ask the noble Viscount if he can give us any information about the state of our present relations with China. Without making any sort of attack on or harsh criticism of the noble Viscount, it would seem to us that his reply to the appeal of Dr. Wellington Koo at Geneva was disturbingly unsympathetic. I hope he will be able to help us in that matter.

Finally, there is the question of the refugees. I should like to ask what is being done to give speedy help to a greater number of these very unhappy people. The tragedy seems to increase. In any case we have only touched the fringe of a very unhappy problem. Germany appears to be intensifying her exile and her Ghetto policy. Hungary seems to have a minor tragedy of her own, and France has, as your Lordships know, some half a million of fugitives from Spanish territory who have been guilty of no crime but have done what heroic men have always done in the world: tried to defend their country against internal traitors and foreign invaders. Last November the Prime Minister expressed himself as greatly impressed with the urgency of the problem, yet up to now nothing except voluntary effort has been available. I believe I am right in saying that no Government has as yet given any financial aid in this matter. I hope the noble Viscount will be good enough to tell us whether any conversations on this matter took place at Geneva. I should have liked to speak upon other points also, but there are many other speakers to address your Lordships' House and I will not do so at this time. I have, I think, said sufficient to justify the Motion which I have placed upon the Paper, and I hope that the noble Viscount will be good enough to give us some information upon the matters that I have raised. I beg to move for Papers.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers with reference to the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government.—(Lord Snell).

4.54 p.m.

THE EARL OF DARNLEY, who had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government if their foreign policy could not now be greatly simplified by negotiating direct with the nations now at variance, said: My Lords, as I have a Question on this subject on the Paper, perhaps it would be convenient if I intervened now, in which case it will not be necessary for me to trouble your Lordships later on. I should first plead very sincerely for your Lordships' indulgence, for I fear that as a new member I have already spoken far too much, and I am now proposing to speak again. I should like to ask that your Lordships' indulgence might cover me in what I have said before and in what I am now going to say, for I would explain that what I am now going to say and the proposals I am going to make are genuinely put forward with helpful and constructive intentions only.

In asking this Question I want first to try to free it of all charges of obstruction, hindrance and danger. In the columns of a well-known London newspaper there has lately been a long correspondence in which various well-known writers have advocated conciliation to greater or smaller degrees. Many of these writers have been told that what they are putting forward is dangerous and shows signs of weakness. They were told this according to their fame and their position, and although I cannot in any way claim to be considered dangerous, I should like to try to refute entirely these charges which have been made against such ideas. The policy which these writers advocated and which I am to-day advocating does not suggest giving anything up. It advocates no loss in men, land or treasure, nor is it advocating any warlike or aggressive spirit. It advocates no relaxation in the healthy training of the young men of the country. All it does is to ask for a meeting between the heads of the nations concerned in this crisis, so that they can go and hear at first hand, and accurately, what they are quarrelling about. It is based on justice, which is surely strength. Therefore I submit that it cannot be called dangerous or weak or obstructive.

I have asked the question whether discussion would not simplify the Government's quest for peace, and I have asked it because the method now being followed appears to the uninitiated, like myself, to be difficult and drawn out, and to show no certainty of peace even if it ultimately succeeds or is realised to the full. It is surely the desire in a nation's heart which produces war or peace, and not the number arrayed against it. We had Russia as Allies in 1914, and that did not stop the War. Nor has England in the past ever been frightened by odds vastly against her. Nor is Japan at the moment. Is it not possible that the opposite is true, and that a minority may tend only to add extra glamour to warlike efforts and to make the cause appear greater than it really is? Does not this make later negotiations, which I suppose are now intended, even harder? If this is true, the theory of balancing forces must be admitted at least to be uncertain, as well as seeming complicated and difficult.

In formulating a process for peace, should not a very firm eye indeed be kept, with a little longer focus, on the best ultimate object in view? Is not this need sometimes lost sight of in the glare of contemporary actions? Cannot this long-sighted policy be stated briefly as the formation of prosperity and content in every nation for the mutual good? If this is so, the only steps which can be taken with certainty of attaining the desired goal are those which remove stress and its accompanying privations. Conversely, any steps which tend to keep alive or increase tension and strained situations must still further delay its realisation.

Have we not deserted entirely that old friend of ours, on which we have lived since birth, the law of cause and effect? In every action since we were born we have insisted on being treated by it, from the first problem of our crying to the last one of our dying. If we were to go to a court which administered that law, what case should we put to it? We should say that there are two nations, Germany and Italy, who have become possessed of a violent desire for expansion. What would the court tell us? They would say that those actions could only result from strong repressive influences, and could not be caused otherwise. Perhaps they would quote that Napoleon was born of the progressive causes of the French Revolution. But in this case there is no need only to rely on the law for advice, for both nations have repeatedly stated that they were so acting, and have justified every action on this account. It is therefore doubly proved that causes and grievances do exist, and it is obviously the simplest method, if possible, to remove them, if in the shortest time they are to be brought back to the hoped-for state of contributors to the common good of Europe. It is useless to argue that they should not have these grievances. They are united countries, their leaders are able and successful men, and their opinions are their own property until we can remove them. Doubtless on this side we have grievances that want removing also.

I would like to try and maintain briefly that the removal is possible, in spite of apparent difficulties, and that it constitutes the simplest and quickest method of solution. The first and greatest of these difficulties is the nature of the recent actions of Germany and Italy. They have apparently threatened the peace of Europe by absorbing small defenceless nations, and appear to wish to dominate Europe. These actions assume alarming proportions unless they are viewed always in conjunction with the before-mentioned statement of grievances, with which they are always allied. If these did not exist, it would be a different story. Then, perhaps, it can be more easily realised that it is only a repetition of many similar processes in the world's history, when apparent necessities have compelled warlike actions and these warlike actions have evoked other counter warlike actions, until war has eventually flared up as the supposed final remedy. If due consideration is given to a number of these cases in history, it must become evident that astringent cures have failed in their object, however violent the action, and should now permanently give way to solvent ones, for tension can only give way to relaxation, and the more violent the action the more necessary becomes the need for relaxation.

Another great difficulty is the supposed untrustworthiness of these countries. Apart from the fact that this epithet has before now been applied to what we know to be quite honest countries, and that epithets always abound on both sides in times of tension, this quality, if it exists, cannot be cured by threats. Moreover, the other side always plays the part of villain. The stage must be set for a straight play rather than melodrama before such qualities can be fairly judged. Then there is the advantage that is supposed to be going to be taken of the slightest sign of desire for negotiation, which is presumably the danger and weakness deprecated in the correspondence to which I referred earlier in my speech. These are based on the fact that Czecho-Slovakia was occupied after the Munich Agreement. But Munich did not attempt to go into the whole question; it was only a hasty patching up of one item. The main questions were left to right themselves, and effective settlement must be comprehensive and complete.

There is also the fear of the conference failing, either at the time, or later in the adherence to its terms. But surely personal contact will remove at once half the tension and difficulties. A successful settlement could surely ensure against subsequent defalcation, and failure is a poor thing to contemplate in such a tremendous endeavour. Many minor difficulties appear in the form of hopes as to the disruption of the Axis, the fall of Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini, the defection of their Armies, etc. Apart from the fact that these things are unlikely, are they even to be hoped for? United countries are far easier to deal with than disrupted ones, and no one could, in fairness, wish to deprive those who have led their countries to greatness of the fruits of their labours, if their great abilities can be reconciled with peaceful progress.

But the difficulties are not only in the eyes of this side. The Germans believe, as you will have read in Herr Hitler's speech of last Sunday, that England has been trying to encircle and reduce them for very many years, and that this policy caused the Great War, and may cause another. This belief, it must be admitted, has some resemblance to England's idea of Germany, and both these wrong ideas can only be rooted out by ventilation. They cannot be proved false by accusations or abuse at long range. Would it not be simpler to set aside all the difficulties and the rights and wrongs for the moment, and go right to the root of the matter: to ask our opponents to meet us in a free spirit of unbiased give and take, state all their grievances, hear ours, and see if a way out cannot be found, so that the spirit of the document given to the Prime Minister at Munich may be made into a practical proposition, and extended, in the belief that the four nations, when united, would be of great benefit to each other and the world?

I am afraid I am running the risk of being called a complete theorist, and not to be putting forward any definite or concrete proposals. Not being an expert on modern European history, I do not think any proposals from myself could be of any possible value. Nor, in fact, do I think that any expert could put forward a concrete proposal till he had heard the other side at close quarters. This crisis is of too long standing. But of the German claims the most dangerous and difficult would seem to be Danzig, which it is hoped is being kept in touch with very carefully at the moment. The next is the Colonial question. Italy has territorial claims against France, and England and France have claims for, shall we say, disturbance and they urgently require to see the spectres of the recent occupations of territory satisfactorily laid and a return to normal conditions of existence made possible. I feel convinced that England and France would be content to leave these claims in the hands of their negotiators for sympathetic examination at a conference, if they could get in return a guaranteed and active assurance that armed occupation of further territory would cease and that general disarmament would be, and could be, inaugurated.

I contend that there are now more visible signs of success for this method. Firstly, Herr Hitler's speech of April 28, in which there was a distinct invitation to peaceful settlement. Its tone and words were quiet and peaceful in comparison with former ones, to which, as yet, there has been no answer. The warlike signs in the danger zones seem to have diminished and apathy seems perhaps now more to be feared than war. The false scare of the German and Italian troop plans in Spain has receded into the distance, as was somewhat caustically, and perhaps somewhat justifiably, commented upon by Herr Hitler this week, as Lord Snell has just said. I think perhaps, in return, we are all grateful to Herr Hitler for his telegram to His Majesty on Monday.

In this unsettled state there is always the possibility of war. Nobody wants it, but in a wider circle of gunpowder a spark always becomes more dangerous, and no one can prevent one arising. And war is now not the old cavalry charges that poets and painters used to describe. Spain and China have proved that in ghastly fashion. Is there not a danger even more subtle than war, which at any rate is action? That is that the blight and miasma of unrealised, yet unventilated, fears and suspicions may settle deep in people's hearts and deprive them, as they are doing now, of their natural joy of existence and keenness for work and pleasure. Enterprise of all kinds can be chilled and recovery may be very long delayed. And the appalling cost of such a long-continued crisis must paralyse international trade as long as the products are engines of war and therefore of no reproductive value.

I have not mentioned the teaching of religion on this subject, and barely mentioned justice; for in the first everyone must look through his own glasses and, in the second, the applicability of the principles of justice as practised in England must be apparent. On these grounds a settlement by conference is the simplest way to take the fears and mistrust from our minds and to restore the desire for progress and prosperity—which will prove that there exists an increased desire for improvement and uplift in mankind. It would mark a continuance of the desire so often expressed by the Prime Minister for peaceful settlement and make a wonderful sequel to his gallant efforts at Munich. It may require faith in large quantities, but faith can do more miracles than guns. It might be the start of a new era in man's existence, when he may permanently have his hands and purse free for the regulating of his peace-time difficulties and the improvement of his health and general environment.

In suggesting that England is the country most fitted from her record of right action in the past to take this step, I am trying to pay her the greatest possible compliment that it lies in my power to convey; for it requires a peculiar quality, perhaps new in international politics, to make the first move to opponents who have done deeds which are strongly resented, and to invite them to confer in the face of possible difficulties. But I contend that, whatever the result, the kudos of the country taking this step in the right spirit cannot but be increased in the eyes of its opponents and the rest of the world. The cheers that greet the great displays of armed might at this time are loud and thrilling, but it may be that they are of less value than the quiet sighs of relief and the silent dawning hopes for a future of peace that, it seems, it is in our power to give now to the peoples. I ask therefore that His Majesty's Government will earnestly reconsider this method of settlement which, from its directness and simplicity, seems to offer a relief from their arduous and exhausting efforts, and appears to promise so much to their loyal adherents and the rest of humanity.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, when foreign affairs necessarily occupy so large a place in public thought it is indubitably right that this House should from time to time take an opportunity of bringing them under review, and I am therefore grateful to the noble Lord opposite who leads the Opposition for having afforded the House such an opportunity to-day, and his initiative has already drawn that suggestive speech to which we have just listened from the noble Earl behind me, on which I shall have a word or two to say in a moment. I would ask your Lordships' permission in a moment to make a few general observations, but meanwhile it may perhaps be of service to the House and of service to the noble Lord opposite, who professed complete ignorance of the policy of His Majesty's Government, if I attempted in the first place to give some brief account of the progress of the several negotiations upon which we are, and have been, engaged in the pursuit of the purpose that the Prime Minister described the other day as that of building up a peace front against aggression.

But I think before I do that, I might conveniently perhaps answer one or two of the more specific questions that the noble Lord who initiated the debate put to me. He began by expressing his anxieties with regard to Spain, and perhaps I might deal with that question at once. He asked me whether we were satisfied with what was happening in regard to the withdrawal of German and Italian personnel, and whether what was happening in that regard was also happening in the Balearic Islands. Well, I cannot add anything on that particular point to what was said by the Prime Minister yesterday, when he referred to the fact, giving the figures, that some 22,000 Italian and 6,000 German troops have now left Spain, and said that those figures represented the great majority of the foreign troops recently serving. The Italian Air Force at Majorca has similarly been reduced. A number of pilots have already left, and the remainder are expected to leave shortly. All Germans connected with the air base in the island have left, except two. I anticipate that all that foreign personnel will be withdrawn without delay.

I then come to what the noble Lord had to say in regard to material, and I naturally welcome what he said, which was indeed what I think most of your Lordships would have expected him to say, that he completely acquitted His Majesty's Government of any intention in this matter in the smallest degree to mislead this House or another place. That, I need hardly say, is so, and all that I would wish to say about this particular question is this. Quite obviously what we have always had particularly in mind is the question of war material under Italian or German control, and that quite obviously for this reason, that anybody who gave the subject a moment's thought must have appreciated that there was nothing on earth to prevent the Germans or Italians selling or giving war material to General Franco, if they felt so minded.

Of course, it might be said that during the currency of the Non-Intervention Committee it was in fact prohibited—whether the prohibition would have been observed or not may be held to be another matter—to send war material. But your Lordships will appreciate that when the Non-Intervention Committee has come to an end, if any Government choose to do it, there is nothing on earth in law or agreement or anything else to prevent them from bringing away war material and sending it back to General Franco by return ship or in any other form. As a matter of fact, the point referred to by the noble Lord was explicitly raised during the negotiations with the Italian Government, and when they agreed to insert a clause in regard to the withdrawal of Italian war material they made it quite plain—and I fully appreciated it at the time—that that must be so with regard to war material which they must have the right, if they should so desire, to sell to General Franco. That is the position, and I do not think, myself, that there is any ground for complaint as to any breach of the Agreement. I do not think any noble Lord could maintain that by any action of His Majesty's Government any such sale, if the two Governments were anxious to make it, could be prevented.

The noble Lord also referred to the Far East, where, as he quite truly said, the situation in a good many directions and in regard to more than one incident is causing His Majesty's Government considerable concern and anxiety. I can only assure your Lordships that as these several incidents arise we do our best to see that British interests—and by that I mean the interests of British subjects—as well as the material interests of British subjects are accorded due respect and that the treaty provisions which have been in more than one direction called in question by the Japanese action are, as far as we can secure them, respected. I can assure your Lordships that we shall do everything that is in our power, in conjunction with other Powers, to pursue that policy. The noble Lord referred to China and to what had recently passed in regard to China at Geneva. He was good enough to say that he had formed a particularly unfavourable judgment of the quality of sympathy expressed in my speech when the Chinese matter came before the Council. Dr. Wellington Koo, who was representing China on the Council, formed a different view, and when he spoke thanked me for the sympathy with which I had spoken of the Chinese appeal. Therefore the noble Lord will forgive me if I say my conscience is not particularly wrung by the reproaches he thought fit to address to me.

The noble Lord spoke also about refugees. I have a good many papers here concerning the refugee problem, but the noble Lord will appreciate that it is a rather complicated and detailed matter, and your Lordships will have an opportunity of debating the whole matter with some care in a week or two. It might therefore be for the convenience of the House if I were not to anticipate in detail what will then fall to be said. But this is due to the noble Lord. I can assure him that the whole question in its many ramifications, and the constant recollection of the intense human tragedy it involves at every turn, is always in the mind of His Majesty's Government. We are doing our best in consultation with other Governments—and I had the opportunity of several informal conversations at Geneva on this subject—to try and feel our way to such cumulative association of minor remedies as may perhaps bring some degree of relief to that most harassing and most tormenting problem.

I come now to the few observations I shall make on the negotiations on which we have been engaged. In what we have been trying to do we have endeavoured to take account of the special situation of each country with which we have been in contact, not binding ourselves to any uniform pattern, but, so far as we can, trying to make a practical approach to the practical problem with which we had to deal. It may be that that is the real distinction between our policy and the policy of noble Lords opposite which the noble Lord in his speech, with altruistic generosity, suggested we had appropriated. Though I do not want to analyse the difference in detail this afternoon, I think I could, without great difficulty, show that the policy His Majesty's Government are seeking to apply, though the noble Lord may call it by the same name, is a more practical edition of that with which the noble Lord is proud to associate himself and with which many noble Lords on this side would always have been proud to associate themselves if they had thought it was capable of being translated into the practical form I hope we are to-day giving it.

The House, I am sure, will understand if I cannot give detailed particulars of discussions that are still in progress, for great as are the advantages of responsible Parliamentary inquiry, it must be admitted that excessive pressure for premature information is some handicap in the handling of foreign relations, and perhaps places us at no small disadvantage in comparison with the countries which do not enjoy the blessing of free institutions. Provided that Parliament is, as I hope it is, broadly satisfied as to the purpose His Majesty's Government have in view, and the wide principles by which they are trying to achieve it, I do not doubt that both here, as the noble Lord's speech showed this afternoon, and in another place there will be a disposition to exercise reasonable patience and restraint. In most departments of life—and, if I may be so light-hearted, even in the preliminaries of matrimony—it would be in the highest degree embarrassing for the parties concerned if each offer and counter-offer were to be trumpeted abroad before the final solution was reached.

As regards Poland, the House will recall the declaration made in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister in agreement with the Polish Foreign Minister on April 6. By that declaration the assurance given by His Majesty's Government to Poland was made reciprocal pending the conclusion of a permanent Agreement between the two countries. It is my hope that this permanent Agreement will shortly be concluded. Our assurances to Rumania and Greece, as the House knows, are unilateral in form, and at present require no further definition. These assurances, as the House will remember, will operate, as in the case of Poland, if there should be a clear threat to the independence of Rumania or of Greece which the Rumanian or Greek Government respectively consider it vital to resist with their national forces. As regards Turkey, the first stage of the negotiations with the Turkish Government was brought to a successful issue just a month ago, on May 12, and your Lordships will recollect the declaration that was made by both Governments in regard to the Agreement then reached. The further consultations for which that declaration provided are being actively pursued, and I have very little doubt that before long I shall be able to announce to your Lordships' House that they have been successfully completed. The attitude of friendly co-operation which the Turkish Government has adopted throughout these discussions has been a source of the greatest satisfaction to His Majesty's Government, as it has been to the whole country, and I think it is the best augury for the consolidation of peace in the Mediterranean area and South Eastern Europe.

Now I come to the negotiations with the Soviet Union on which the noble Lord opposite spoke. Since the statement that was made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place some little time ago, I have had the advantage of personal discussions with French Ministers in Paris and at Geneva, as well as the continuance of my conversations with the Russian Ambassador in London. As a result of these discussions, joint Anglo-French proposals were made to the Soviet Government which, in our view, met in all essentials the points on which there had been difficulty. The Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, in a public comment on these proposals, has indeed recognised that they do in substance go far to meet the preoccupation of his Government. But there remain one or two difficulties to be resolved, and your Lordships will be aware of the statement on the position as it stands to-day made by my right honourable friend in another place yesterday.

The main point of difficulty is the position of the Baltic States. Throughout all these discussions His Majesty's Government have been guided by the desire, not only to take account of the particular circumstances of the Government with which they were negotiating, but also to have regard to the situation and the wishes of third countries; and we have never attempted, and we would not think it right to attempt, to thrust assurances on countries which did not want them, or to take any step which might compromise in other quarters the relations of those countries which only desire to maintain their own neutrality inviolate. While your Lordships, I am sure, would give full weight to that consideration, at the same time, of course, it must be recognised that from the point of view of their own security the Soviet Government cannot be disinterested in the independence of their neighbours, and I hope that we may be able to find means by which that difficulty, and any others which may arise in the adjustment of the general points on which there is now, I think, no difference between the three Governments, will be resolved, and therefore the greatest effect given to the general principle of mutual support against aggression by which the agreement we seek to reach is inspired.

We thought it of importance that, for the purpose of these negotiations, His Majesty's Ambassador in Moscow should be as fully informed as possible as to what was in His Majesty's Government's mind, and, accordingly, we had hoped to ask him to come back for a day or two for consultation with us. We had indeed, asked him to do so, but yesterday it appeared, unluckily for him, that he had succumbed to the fashionable evil of influenza, and, therefore, as the Prime Minister stated yesterday, in order to accelerate the negotiations we are proposing to send a representative of the Foreign Office to Moscow to convey to His Majesty's Ambassador there full information as to the attitude of His Majesty's Government on all outstanding points, and I so informed the Soviet Ambassador this morning.

I have tried to give, in a brief form, some account of action taken by His Majesty's Government in the last few weeks which represents a fresh departure of great significance in British foreign policy, and before I leave this subject I would say one word about an engagement, somewhat similar in purpose and in character, which was concluded, I think in the fourteenth century, and which has successfully withstood the changes and chances of 500 years of European politics. I refer, of course, to our alliance with Portugal. On the 22nd May, the President of the Council, Dr. Salazar, took the opportunity to declare that the alliance between our two countries remained one of the unchanging principles of Portuguese policy. As the Prime Minister at once informed Dr. Salazar in a personal message, this declaration was received with the liveliest satisfaction both by His Majesty's Government and by the British people, and His Majesty's Government, on their side, reaffirmed their determination to fulfil with complete loyalty their obligations under the alliance. I am happy to think that these mutual assurances, following on the visit of a British Military Mission to Portugal, have contributed to consolidating still further the alliance which has bound our two countries, as Atlantic and as Colonial Powers, for so many centuries, and which will, in the view of His Majesty's Government, continue to be a potent instrument in the cause of world peace.

I want now to make one or two general observations that are suggested by the summary of the negotiations which I have given to the House. I have no doubt, as I think indeed my noble friend behind me just now suggested, that we must all be constantly reminding ourselves in these days of the danger of using any language of exaggeration, or of jumping too hastily at insecure conclusions. Above all we must be sensible of the extreme importance of doing our utmost to understand the point of view of other nations and of getting them to understand our own. British policy seems to ourselves straightforward and plain, but it is perhaps not difficult to imagine how differently it may appear to many thinking people in Germany. There must be many such who are not less shocked than ourselves at the treatment of the Jews, and realise that, whatever Germany may have felt about relations between Germany and Czecho-Slovakia as they were left by Munich, to attempt to solve that problem by the destruction of Czech independence was—to state it in moderate terms—both unwise and wrong. But, feeling all this, such people in Germany may, in the light of post-War years, feel too that Germany would never in fact have secured consideration for claims that seem to her people eminently reasonable and just, unless she had been prepared to back them by threat of force. And it is no long step from this for the patriotic German to accept the gospel sedulously preached to him that British policy consists in the blocking of any and all of Germany's legitimate aspirations, whether racial, political or economic.

There, to my mind, emerges the really dangerous element in the present situation, which is that the German people as a whole should drift to the conclusion that Great Britain had abandoned all desire to reach an understanding with Germany and that any further attempt at such a thing must be once for all written off as hopeless. Now, my Lords, I am very well aware that in some quarters everything that this country has lately done is maliciously and untruly labelled as provocative and is condemned as only calculated to bring more close the disaster that all peoples everywhere desire above all things to avoid. But to us the British policy and British opinion wear a very different guise. The British people I think have constantly sought, and would still earnestly desire if they thought it possible, to reach such an understanding with Germany as might not only assist a settlement of particular questions but might also place the relations of the two countries upon a secure footing of mutual confidence. They have been very ready to admit many mistakes made both at and after the conclusion of the War, and there was a widespread desire to rectify what might legitimately be rectified and to enter into an era of genuine friendship with the German people. That desire found practical expression, for example, as is now forgotten, in the successful negotiations for the evacuation of the Rhineland before the time laid down in the Peace Treaty.

It was quite inevitable that events since 1933 should have profoundly disturbed the development of friendly Anglo-German relations. After the occupation of the Rhineland the German Chancellor assured the world that the period of surprises was over. After the Anschluss with Austria he said that Germany had no territorial demands to make in Europe. Then came the German action in regard to the Sudeten German problem in Czecho-Slovakia—culminating in Munich—last year. Britain's opinion was inevitably disturbed, but according to its habit was prepared to do its best to understand, if not to accept, the German point of view. Treaty provisions were certainly being torn up, but Herr Hitler had repeatedly given to the world the assurance that Germany did not want to incorporate non-Germans within the Reich, and that seemed to be a guarantee of limitation upon Germany's aims in foreign policy. But on these events followed first the attack on the Jews in November of last year, which shocked the conscience of the world, and finally the destruction of the independence of Czecho-Slovakia by a lightning military occupation.

There seemed here something much more than a fresh departure in German policy. Above everything, there was a staggering blow that was levelled at confidence and at the value of the pledged word in international relationships. And to many people, certainly to our own, it seemed no unreal fear that made them wonder whether they might not be faced with a first step in an attempt to dominate the world by force and made them feel themselves standing on the threshold of conditions in which no country could feel that its security and its independence might not at any time be threatened. Therefore it was almost overnight that there was an immediate and instinctive drawing together on the part of many countries to meet what appeared a great potential danger. The reaction in France was precisely the same, and no more tragic or disastrous error could be made than to suppose that because the French and British peoples are by nature tolerant and disposed to settle differences by discussion, by compromise, they are therefore less resolute, less vigorous and less resilient than any other people. M. Daladier in recent speeches has expressed in language of quite unmistakable clarity the spirit which I believe to animate the whole French people without exception to-day, and I think it should now be equally clear that the people of this country are not less ready and not less determined than their friends across the Channel to make whatever contribution is necessary to uphold their way of life and to defend their position in the world.

If indeed it is true that in no country do the leaders cherish sinister designs of imposing settlements under pressure of overwhelming force, then not one of our engagements will ever be called into operation. The way is open to new opportunities by which all may benefit and the nations can rapidly emerge from the atmosphere of doubt, uncertainty and fear in which for these last months they have been obliged to dwell. I am encouraged to say that by some words that were used by Signor Mussolini in the speech he made at Turin on May 14. Millions, he said, were asking whether we were on the road to war or peace, and his own answer was that there were at present no questions which would justify a war which by the logical development of events would become a universal war. If these problems are to be resolved by negotiation, there must be good will on both sides. There must be a readiness on each side to make allowances for the point of view of the other, and there must be give as well as take. Furthermore, there must be the conviction on both sides that the word of the other will be kept. Is it too much to hope that in this twentieth century of the Christian era it should be possible for the peoples of Europe and for their leaders to achieve these preconditions and so eliminate "aggression" from the vocabulary of Europe?

There may be a great many points, and there are of course a great many points, at issue between European countries, and I should despair of their settlement if I were to consider only the polemical utterances on both sides. I refuse to accept at its full face value everything that is written or said in other countries, just as I would expect the Governments and peoples of those countries to ignore some irresponsible expressions of opinion in this country. If one may try to extract some comfort from a recent disaster that in these last days has overshadowed all our thoughts, I would observe that it was significant that among the first messages of condolence to be despatched to His Majesty the King on behalf of the people for whom they speak were the messages from the German Chancellor and Signor Mussolini. It is easy to say that those messages are the perfunctory expressions of international courtesy; but may it not be that one may see in them also an illustration of the readiness of great peoples, behind and beneath whatever may be the political differences of the moment, to meet each other upon the common basis of humanity? Nothing, in my view, would be more tragic than if through avoidable misunderstanding they were to abandon hope of such genuine co-operation as might offer the greatest contribution in alt history to the peace of Europe.

If there is one thing certain in this uncertain world, it is that Great Britain and France, and, I may safely say, the countries with which they have been in consultation, will never commit any act of aggression or attempt by indirect means to undermine the independence or security of any State. So far from wishing to embarrass Germany in the economic field, we know that a truly prosperous Germany would be good for all Europe and be good for us. So far from wishing to obstruct settlements of problems which now or hereafter may appear likely to disturb the international order, our one desire is to throw all our weight in the scale of peaceful settlement. The day has gone by when the independence of European nations can be destroyed by unilateral action, and it is clear that any attempt to do so will meet with wide and resolute resistance. But provided the independence of nations is recognised, His Majesty's Government are not only willing but anxious to explore the whole problem of economic Lebensraum, not only for Germany but for everybody, for all European nations.

That brings me to something that the noble Lord behind me said as to the possibility of a conference. I venture to express some doubt whether a conference by itself, whatever may be its appeal to our natural feelings and emotions, offers any remedy. It has often been said that no conference can succeed that has not been carefully prepared beforehand, and that a conference which fails only makes a difficult situation worse. I am quite sure that we have to admit that there is great force in those ideas. But I have no hesitation in saying that, if there ever seemed to be elements of a real settlement, His Majesty's Government would advocate it, and we should be prepared to make the best contribution that we could to bring it to a successful result. Any of Germany's claims are open to consideration round a table, and Great Britain is only anxious, as I have said, to see rival claims adjusted on a basis that might secure lasting peace. But I repeat that we are concerned to see that these needs are settled by negotiation and not by force, for on no other terms than those can international life go on.

It may perhaps be thought that the action which His Majesty's Government have so far taken is only negative: that we have, so to speak, set up a number of notice-boards with "Danger" written on them but have not made any constructive proposals which might make the boards unnecessary. I venture to say that that is a superficial view. In these recent months His Majesty's Government, in co-operation with other Governments, have been engaged upon the urgent and immediate task of trying to keep the peace, on which the future of all European countries depends. But if, as we hope, we succeed in reaching calmer waters, His Majesty's Government are under no illusion as to the necessity for devising positive plans for the future. Nobody could suppose that, even if it be appreciated that further acts of aggression against the independence of European States would be resisted, if necessary by force of arms, it would be satisfactory or even possible for Europe to settle down as long as its Governments are divided into potentially hostile groups, and for nations to remain in a kind of uneasy equilibrium while their peoples were slowly impoverished by the burden of armaments and the stagnation of trade that must assuredly result. His Majesty's Government must therefore certainly wish to reach a point at which international differences can be made the subject of calm and unprejudiced negotiation.

Do not let us underrate the difficulties. In most of the problems which call for treatment to-day there is the most difficult of all human adjustments to make—namely, between conflicting claims, each of which can fairly be said to rest upon some foundation of equity but neither of which can be completely met if regard is had to the case, not less strong, upon the other side. In such cases it is quite clear that no just settlement can be reached unless both parties desire it. Here and elsewhere we are all prone to think that our judgment is as just as Solomon's, and we do not always remember that it is proverbially difficult to judge the case of another quite as fairly as one's own. But even if human judgment is always fallible, and perhaps will never be in a position to dispense perfect justice, yet we can, I think, generally manage to feel and see fairly plainly what is unjust. No settlement that it was sought to impose unilaterally by force without proper consideration of the claims on the other side could be described as just, and I think that those who seek to build a just world are bound to resist things by which justice is plainly disregarded and denied.

It may well be that there are questions for which at any particular moment, having regard to the temper of the times and the temper of those concerned, there is no immediate solution. In such cases I suppose it is the duty of statesmanship to work for such a détente as may make a real change in the atmosphere through which an approach to the problem has to be made. That will, of course, be eminently unsatisfying to the champions of importunate and imperative demands. But reasonable people everywhere will, I think, feel that, however difficult it may be to get a settlement which will completely suit both sides, it is certainly true that no settlement by negotiation can be worse than, or as bad as, a settlement achieved by war. And this feeling will be immeasurably stronger if in a particular question at issue there is no hardship or oppression which clamours for an immediate redress.

People are apt to say these days that war is unavoidable. I do not share that view. It is, of course, true that there are delicate problems in Europe which are only too likely to lead to war if roughly handled, and there are men who have it in their sole power to precipitate a conflict. The danger always is that, for whatever reason, their judgment should mislead them as to the nature of the risk they are running and as to both the purpose and the temper of those against whose convictions they may at any time be moved to act. There must be no misunderstanding. If the issue were ever to be joined, I have no doubt at all about the ultimate outcome, whatever might be the varying fortunes of war or the duration of the struggle. But I find it difficult to believe that, with the certain prospect of resistance, with the awareness of the fearful consequences which must follow, with the knowledge of the desire of all peoples for peace, and the readiness of all peoples to see matters settled by negotiation, those who might feel tempted to risk the arbitrament of war would not feel, if they might once convince themselves of the good faith of those with whom they have to deal, that it was wiser and more profitable to resolve by negotiation the difficulties which inevitably arise in adjusting the claims and satisfying the needs of a constantly changing world.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the whole House feels grateful to the noble Viscount for the very clear statement on foreign affairs to which we have listened, and we are grateful to him, as we always are, for not carrying official reticence to the somewhat extreme length which is often the temptation of a great public Department. I merely wish to lay emphasis on one or two points, but before I do that, I would like to refer to the later passages of the noble Viscount's speech, which were heard, I think, with general agreement by every individual in this House. I can understand that the noble Viscount did not find it altogether easy to fall in with the suggestion made by the noble Earl, Lord Darnley, to whose lucid and thoughtful speech we all listened with interest. I join in the hope expressed before that he will frequently take part in the debates in the House; but it struck me, in listening to the noble Earl, that the point of view which he put forward displayed him as almost an unconscious advocate of the League of Nations. It was almost on the lines of M. Jourdain in the French play, who had been speaking in prose all his life without knowing it; because a scheme of this sort, of negotiation with nations with which you are at variance, can be, and ought to be, best resolved by sitting round a table such as there is at Geneva. I think it is clear that the system of individual conversations and conferences between leading members of different Governments has received such severe shocks that it cannot be considered to be, in most cases, a hopeful expedient at this moment, and I am afraid, with the noble Viscount opposite, that any attempt now to call a conference, at which there could be a thoroughly frank and free discussion of all difficulties, however desirable in itself it might be, is beyond the bounds of possibility.

I only wish to say one word about Russia, and I quite understand that it is not possible for His Majesty's Government to go into full details of the negotiations, delighted though we were to hear that there is a good prospect of their being brought to a happy termination. In one respect, I think the noble Lord who initiated the discussion is not: altogether fair to His Majesty's Government. He spoke of the—I forget what the precise adjective was: was it infamous?—treatment of Russia in the past, but I think it is fair to mention that the Russia of to-day is, according to all accounts that we are entitled to believe, very different from the Russia immediately after the great revolution there, and that it would not have been, according to all that we were told here, accurate to describe that Russia as non-aggressive. Now, I believe, His Majesty's Government are entitled to include the Russia of to-day as a thoroughly non-aggressive country, and as being prepared to join with others in resisting aggression. That probably is the most hopeful change that has taken place in European politics within the last few years. The noble Viscount mentioned the objections taken by the Baltic States to a system of guarantees, the reason, I take it, being that they prefer to regard themselves as strictly neutral in the case of any contest involving their neighbours. That is very intelligible, but surely they must know, what I take it is notorious everywhere, that no declaration of neutrality of that kind would stand any chance of being respected if it came to war. It is difficult to see, therefore, how their state could be in any sense made more perilous by their acceptance of the sort of guarantee which I understand the Western Powers and the Government of Russia are prepared to give them.

I pass for a moment to Spain. In considering the possibility of future agreement with Germany it is impossible to ignore the speech made by Herr Hitler the other day, recounting the steps which he had taken to assist General Franco's Government in Spain in 1936, a few weeks before he had expressed his full concurrence in the doctrine of non-intervention. That is a fact on which I need not comment, but what is of more interest is the question of the Italian relations with Spain. The noble Viscount, as he always does, made out the best possible case from his point of view on the subject of withdrawal of material, but I confess that I was not entirely convinced that the interpretation he put upon that promise of withdrawal can be regarded as valid. I am quite certain that at the time everybody supposed that the withdrawal of material meant physical witudrawal from Spain, and not its being handed over, either by gift or purchase. And I feel sure that if that fact had been announced at the time, the reception of the Agreement between Italy and our-selves would have been less enthusiastic than it may have been. To take a parallel case, it is not at all inconceivable that some leading expert, German or Italian, might assume double nationality and claim therefore, having become a Spaniard, that the withdrawal of personnel did not apply to him. That, of course, may be regarded as a more extreme case, but I think it is something of a parallel.

I look at the matter from a different point of view. To my mind, it is an infinitely more serious aspect of the transaction that it should be desired to retain all this military material in Spain. You see the Italian and German leaders parading around their countries, boasting in effect that it was they who won the war for General Franco, and implying that it could not have been won without their assistance. Well, for a proud people like the Spaniards to be told that cannot be very palatable, and I think a little reflection would show that it is a very bad augury for General Franco's régime, or whatever the future régime in Spain may be, that it should be supposed to have gained its victory through foreign aid. For I think it is possible that the restoration of the Bourbons in France failed to attract the imagination and love of the French nation during the thirty years through which it persisted, in spite of the fact that every concession was attempted to be made to popular feeling, simply because that dynasty had been restored by foreign arms; and I am sure a similar difficulty would affect the Spanish Government if it became generally believed that it was foreign intervention which had brought about the victory.

We all, I think, feel that the whole conception that the present Spanish Government defeated a vast Communist conspiracy, which is so frequently stated in Germany and Italy, is without foundation. Whatever the Republican Government of Spain might have turned out to be, if it had not been defeated in the war, one thing is quite certain—that it would not have been by any possibility a Communist Government on the Russian pattern. But I can only express the hope that the action which His Majesty's Government have taken on this matter of Spain will not interfere with the ultimate freedom and independence of that country, under whatever Government it finds itself during the next few years.

6.18 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps before I begin to say what I hope to say I might be allowed to deal very shortly with a point made by the noble Marquess who has just sat down. I think I may say with complete confidence that the Spanish people will not be particularly gratified by the statements which have been made in Germany and Italy tending to show that Germany and Italy won the war for General Franco. I may add to that that they will not forget that far larger quantities, both of foreign arms and materials and recruits, came from such countries as France, Russia and Czecho-Slovakia for the Republican forces than were ever employed by General Franco or sent across by Germany or Italy.

To turn to the main subject of this debate, I have accustomed myself without any difficulty to regard the heads which I see before me on the Front Bench as much wiser than my own, and in particular, when the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has spoken, I have always felt when he sat down happier about my country than when he got up. For the first time to-day I feel a certain doubt, not as to my confidence in him, but as to my happiness as the result of the picture he has painted. After all, since the House last discussed foreign affairs a very startling set of new commitments has been proposed by His Majesty's Government, and in particular I refer to the diplomatic negotiations which have been pursued with great vigour and energy in contact with the Russian Government. To my mind there has been an immense apparent reversal of Government foreign policy.

I believe, as I have been told, that British foreign policy admitted such things as these—that the Treaty of Versailles stood in need of amendment, that we stood for a policy of appeasement, that we stood for a policy which would not allow Europe to be divided into two hostile camps, and that we stood for a policy which did not look forward to the encirclement of Germany. We may be still following such a policy; I sincerely trust we are. Much that the noble Viscount said in his speech as to the necessity of ultimately coming to good terms with the German people cheered me and confirmed me in thinking there was not such a great reversal of policy as I seemed to have noticed. But, as to the new commitments proposed with Russia, if we carry them to a conclusion what shall we have done except encircled Germany? What shall we have done except assisted to divide Europe into two hostile camps? What shall we have done to that middle opinion in the whole of Europe on which we must all set so great a store? Above all, perhaps, what shall we have done to the opinion of the German people?

Fortunately or unfortunately, the position of the Russian Government is wholly different in this consideration to the position of any other Government in the world. In the first place, it is surely unnecessary to point out that Germany and Italy are united in an Anti-Comintern Pact, and that Russia runs as it were two Governments—one the Government with which the noble Viscount has just been dealing, and another Government which he never sees and with which he never comes into contact, which is known as the Comintern. Russia alone of all the countries of Europe is definitely and officially anti-Christian and anti-religious. Does that recommend her to the other countries of Europe or to the great middle opinion which we ought to cultivate? Russia alone runs this dual system of Government, and Russia alone—no, I will not say alone, because the Nazis have adopted her method in this respect—keeps in every country of Europe a Party, I will not say devoted to her territorial interests, but devoted to her ideological interests. Even in Poland, you will find no less than 300,000 men enrolled in the Communist Party and there is a Communist Party in every country of Europe. It is with a Government which carries this appendage of the Comintern that we are now negotiating. That, to me, is a wholly new development in our policy.

I do not want to weary the House, but what do we expect to get from it? It is certain we have increased the hostility of the German people. My most recent information goes to show that during the last few weeks the German people have become completely convinced that we mean to hold them down by every means in our power, and what has convinced them has been our negotiations with Russia. We have already been told plainly that some Baltic States will not admit of a guarantee being given in these circumstances. It almost makes one wish one was a Latvian oneself and could adopt the same proud position. What are we going to gain? Are we going to gain greatly in military strength? My information is that, at the best, Russia can put 130 divisions in the field and keep them there on the western front—an Army very little larger than, say, the Army which Spain could put on the Pyrenees, not that I have the slightest suspicion that such as event as that will ever take place. We have already General Franco's declaration that Spain is to be a fortress of peace, and we remember that during the Munich crisis he offered us the neutrality of his country. For that comparatively minor military addition to our strength we are, it seems to me, going to set Europe by the ears, and that in such a way as to endanger our future by methods peculiar to that position.

Who is to know if we enter into an undertaking with Russia—a five years treaty is proposed—that in case of aggression on either country the other shall come to its help, that Russia will not herself provoke that aggression? I know the noble Marquess on the Liberal Benches suggested that the Russians were no longer an aggressive Government. Has he forgotten the meeting of the Comintern when the whole policy of stirring up civil war in Spain was raised and debated? That was only in 1934, and that policy has been carried out right up to 1939. How can anyone, in view of the relationship between the Spanish people and the Russian interventionists, think Russia is not an aggressive country? It is more than possible that Russia, which for years has had one set policy of embroiling Western Europe in war so that she might promote her own revolutionary aims, would herself be the first to stir up trouble and we should find ourselves bound to her. We are not going to gain the confidence of Europe as allies of the Soviet. We are not going to have a good cause on which to fight. I sincerely trust that these negotiations with Russia will not be pursued so as to limit our freedom of action and, above all things, I shall hope that the noble Viscount, when he returns to his place, or whoever takes his place on the Front Bench, will be able to say—


My noble friend has only left the Chamber for a few minutes.


I hope we shall hear that he has no intention of accepting the Russian proposal, if war should ever come, that no separate peace shall be entered into without the consent of both parties. That would be an extraordinarily dangerous situation in which to leave us. It is more than possible that Russia would emerge, shall we say, after four years of war comparatively unweakened whilst Western Europe had torn itself to bits, and we should be obliged still to keep the war going because of the rash promises they are asking us to make to-day. That is a departure from our previous policy which wants a great deal more explanation than we have had. I could speak a great deal more strongly, but I have taken to heart the admonition of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and have been most restrained in my language.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to delay the House to any late hour, but I should like to express a feeling of relief and gratification at a great deal that fell from the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I think his speech gave a ray of hope which has been badly wanted in these rather gloomy days of waiting. If I may humbly make some criticisms, it is because I think there is some inconsistency between his aspirations and those which he voices on behalf of His Majesty's Government and the methods that are being adopted in the present juncture. The noble Lord who has just addressed the House confined himself to the negotiations that are going on with Russia. I do not think that is very helpful, because any undisguised animus against one particular country only adds fuel to the flames in one direction or another. If I may say so, my disagreement with the policy that is being pursued at present is by no means confined to the negotiations that are going on with Russia. I think the entanglements that we are weaving with all the various countries may place us in an extremely difficult position.

We have got treaties with Poland, Rumania, Turkey and Greece. Our difficulties with Russia arise largely from the position of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. It is extremely difficult for us to grasp how far we are going to be engaged in the protection of all these countries, how far some frontier incident, some possibly quite insignificant occasion, may give rise to the terrible conflagration which we all dread. We are going to be entangled, as I have said, in some way or other, with all these countries. May I ask a definite question of the noble Lord who is in charge at the moment for the Government, which perhaps may be answered before the conclusion of the debate? I hope our engagements, whatever they may be, are going to be specifically declared so that the country may be made fully aware of what our commitments are, and then, when the commitments are realised, the people will know what they have to expect. I would say, incidentally, that it will be very necessary, when these various treaties and engagements are in print, that they should be accompanied by maps. My geography is not very good, and there are a great many people who are a little uncertain about countries like Estonia and Latvia, and if any incident in those countries which Soviet Russia regards as dangerous drags us into taking part in some military action, the people of this country ought to be fully aware of what their commitments are.

I agree, I think, with what the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore said, although I do not agree with him in singling out Russia. I go very much further than that. I agree with him when he said that the result of the policy so far has been to consolidate the opposing camps. That has nothing to do with collective security. I always objected to the policy of collective security, and so did His Majesty's Government in former days, but I regard the policy we are undertaking now as worse than collective security because it seems to be not under the aegis of the League of Nations and there is great vagueness as to exactly what our commitments are. The whole idea in international affairs of making a peace bloc, whose members are firmly united in a common purpose, sincerely persistent in their co-operation and of one mind until their purpose is achieved, is absolutely fallacious. You cannot do it. War is caused by ill-feeling, and I think the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Darnley, really put, in perhaps idealistic language, the sort of line that ought to be pursued. But, unfortunately, the occasion of war is often some minor incident, some frontier dispute, some murder, or even the loss of temper of some statesman; and when you think of the widespread entanglements that we have got with all these various nations who are actuated, in the long run, as I have always said, by self-interest, I feel it might be quite probable that we should get involved and find ourselves pledged to participate in a war for which we could not persuade the people of this country to have any enthusiasm, and which they would not like to participate in at all.

The idea of all these commitments is, I think, one of extreme danger. It is a change back to the diplomacy which I thought had long been discarded, and my specific question is: Are all these commitments going to be given to us in print so that we know precisely where we are? I remember well that in 1914 I was the first to go into the library and find the Belgian Treaty, made in 1839, to see exactly what our commitments were. Everybody else had forgotten them. We did not know to what extent we were committed. The number of commitments that we shall have if this tangle is woven further does make one pause and feel that this is not a method which is helping on the idea that the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs expressed so eloquently and so forcibly. While we are doing this, while we are putting up, as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, said, these warning notices all round Europe, while we are disturbing the life of this country with rearmament, with A.R.P., with various activities all over the country, straining the nerves of people and straining the resources of the country, we are at the same time expressing the hope that time will come for discussion, for conciliation and for appeasement.

I know "conciliation" and "appeasement" are supposed to be words which ought not to be mentioned, but after all even those who disapprove of them know perfectly well that the differences between nations can only be settled in the council chamber and not upon the battlefield. What we are doing, if I may make a simile, is what we think of a watchmaker as doing. We see him trying to piece together the complex mechanism of a watch with the finest possible tools, and we notice by his side a sledge hammer. You say to him: "What is that sledge hammer for?" and he replies: "If I fail with these I shall use that." You say -to him: "Don't you know that will smash the watch?" and he replies: "Yes, I know." That is what the Government are doing at the moment. They are always weighing and measuring the length of the sledge hammer, instead of engaging themselves in season and out of season with the real negotiations which may lead to a settlement. You may say we must wait for the right opportunity. It is always a difficult thing to know when is the right opportunity, but I think there were hopeful signs in what the noble Viscount said and in the intention he showed of meeting the Germans and talking with them in certain conditions when the atmosphere became calmer. We must not mind their language. It is unfortunate, but we must disregard them and think the whole time of the people behind—the great German nation with whom we want to be friends. Let us take the opportunity when we can.

May I in conclusion quote a very fine passage from a speech made by Sir Austen Chamberlain in 1922 when there was great opposition to the Irish Treaty? It is so fine a passage—and I think it has reference to present-day troubles—that I cannot resist quoting it. Sir Austen Chamberlain said: Now and again in the affairs of men there comes a moment when courage is safer than prudence, when some great act of faith, touching the hearts and stirring the emotions of men, achieves a miracle that no act of statesmanship can compass. Such a moment may be passing before our eyes. I would commend that quotation to the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. If he had been here a few moments ago he would have heard how I feel that he has raised our hopes, and I hope that bearing this quotation in mind he will not wait for the opportunity but will make the opportunity.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain your Lordships in what I am afraid must, after the important announcement made by the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary, be a more or less moribund stage of the debate, but I should like to take the opportunity of putting one or two questions to the noble Viscount, and before I do that of expressing my sense of gratitude—which I am sure is shared by a great number of your Lordships—to the noble Earl, Lord Darnley, for starting his particular hare which has been pursued by at least two of the subsequent speakers. I think the noble Earl did us considerable service in daring to utter the suspect word "negotiation" in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, derived satisfaction and encouragement from the response made to the noble Earl, Lord Darnley's speech by the noble Viscount, and I am very glad to feel that Lord Ponsonby derived that satisfaction.

There was perhaps a certain Delphic quality, as there is apt to be in the speeches of Foreign Secretaries, but I must say I was not quite so encouraged. I took the noble Viscount to say in effect that a full-blooded conference at the present moment would, as I think most of your Lordships agree, be a hopeless proposition and that most of the outstanding issues between us and the principal unsatisfied Powers are at present in so inflamed a state that the noble Viscount feels that he must wait for some sign of a changed temper in the principal unsatisfied Powers before he embarks on any attempt to negotiate these particular questions, but that beyond these immediate stormy waters which we see ahead of us the noble Viscount undoubtedly hopes that a moment will come when negotiations with confidence on both sides can be opened. I do not know, but I hope that is roughly a fair interpretation of what has fallen from the noble Viscount.

If that is so, I would only like to say this: that there are many among your Lordships who, like myself, will welcome all that was affirmative in the response from the noble Viscount, who will trust his judgment, and who, like the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, have accustomed themselves to trusting the wisdom of the heads which we see from our position in reverse on the Front Bench, but are looking hopefully for some sign from our leaders that they discern opportunities of breaking this prolonged tension and opening some form of negotiation. I wonder whether the noble Viscount fully realises—I am sure he must—that the obstacles to that do not proceed only from countries with which one day presumably, whether before or after war, we shall have to negotiate. I am myself sometimes disturbed by the formidable character of the obstacles which I seem to discern in my own country. There are formidable forces in this country which appear, beyond the present anti-aggression front, as we call it, to see nothing but stronger and stronger anti-aggression fronts stretching in interminable perspective into the future.

There is a large body of opinion which appears to have persuaded itself that after æons of history in which the political and economic configuration of the world has progressively changed, it will be somehow possible to clamp down from the present moment and make permanent for ever the political and economic structure of the world at the present moment. I need not ask your Lordships to believe that the most superficial reading of history must prove that that is a wholly impossible view. But meanwhile the prolonged deadlock persists and inevitably nourishes the psychology of war. I myself am constantly alarmed to find how friends of mine, who in September last were shrinking horrified from the abyss which appeared to open in front of our feet, have now almost, one might think from their conversation, persuaded themselves that a world war would not be so very formidable after all, and that there is something to be said for teaching the Germans by means of war the blessings of democracy, always provided we have the assistance of Russia, Turkey and Portugal—three convinced dictatorships—in instilling that lesson.

I am also alarmed, as your Lordships must be alarmed, at the way in which the Press—a substantial portion of the Press in all countries, but not all the Press certainly in this country—continues to feed the subterranean flame. In how many newspapers do we see headlines for every bitter and insulting reference made to us in totalitarian speeches, and only a back page and obscure headings for the generous references to which both the noble Earl, Lord Darnley, and the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs referred in such moving terms? Headlines for Sir Archibald Sinclair's reference to the famous chocolate boxes, which dropped from the sky without breaking and without exploding and were then picked up by trusting Republican children in Spain, when they instantly detonated; but no headlines, no prominent position, for the generous references sometimes made to this country even in totalitarian States. Headlines for the prophecies that no German or Italian soldier would ever be withdrawn; only a back page and an obscure heading for the fact that, as we learn from the noble Viscount, at any rate a very large majority of the forces of both those countries have been withdrawn from Spain.

The forces in this country which the noble Viscount will have to face some day, when the time comes when in his judgment he feels it possible to negotiate, are really twofold. There are the believers, of whom I believe none is present at the moment in your Lordships' House, in the inevitability of a war some day between democracy and the totalitarian conception. I will not weary your Lordships with refuting that belief, which seems to me not only a confused but a profoundly un-Christian view. I only mention it because we have heard it urged with matchless eloquence by a right reverend Prelate who is now no longer a member of your Lordships' House, who urged us to believe not long ago that it was our duty—"our Christian duty," I think he said—to regard war as inevitable on those grounds.

Uneasy yoke-fellows of those who hold that view are those, probably more numerously represented in your Lordships' House, who are persuaded that Herr Hitler is pursuing a long-term plan to destroy and dismember the British Empire. I suppose that there is no living being, probably not even Herr Hitler himself, who could say whether that view is founded in fact or not. But I must say this: that it appears to me to do Herr Hitler himself too much honour. I have never been able to understand the psychological portrait of Herr Hitler upon which this conception is based; the portrait of an erratic mystic, constantly, we are told, acting upon unpredictable visions, and nevertheless pursuing with a cold intellectual detachment a policy conceived years before he came into power; never, like most of my friends among politicians, altering an iota of what he said in 1929, except in the not unimportant particular that he did in his original testament say that he never desired to come into conflict with the British Empire.

That notion that you cannot negotiate with Germany because Germany is vowed to our destruction is, if it be true, at least a doctrine of despair, because it commits us to the belief that there must be not only a world war but a world war in every generation, and it commits us to the certainty that all we have to offer our children is a new, and probably a longer and a darker, Dark Age. I am convinced that it is not the noble Viscount's view; it clearly cannot be the view of the man who went to Munich; and we must therefore hope that the object of the present alliances, whenever the moment may come, will be not to absolve us from the duty of negotiating but to enable us to negotiate, when we do negotiate, free from the threat of force. Surely it is only common sense that, if we desire to shepherd the unsatisfied nations out of the paths of aggression, we should make it clear that there are other paths along which they can proceed.

I should like to remind your Lordships of a sentence written last Sunday week in a Sunday newspaper by Mr. Anthony Eden, who said: Will not the nations be more readily brought to understand that methods of force must be abandoned if to overwhelming military power to resist aggression be added political reasonableness to solve admitted ills? I hope that most of your Lordships will welcome those words; and, unless I am very much deceived, that still roughly represents the purpose of His Majesty's Government themselves. All I wish to say is that I hope that when this moment comes of which the noble Viscount speaks, the selection of which, having always been a profound admirer of his talents, I am prepared to leave to his judgment, he recognises that he will have to face very powerful forces of opposition in this country who will raise their hands in holy horror at the mere thought of negotiating with, as it seems to them, the evil thing.

In conclusion, might I address to the Government two specific questions, which the noble Viscount will of course ignore if they cause him any embarrassment?—although, as your Lordships are all aware, the noble Viscount is a very difficult man to embarrass. I do not profess to understand the question of Danzig, and I dare say that none of your Lordships professes to understand it either. In the eighteen-sixties, when a similar knotty question had arisen in Schleswig-Holstein, Lord Palmerston, the then Foreign Secretary, said that only two people understood it, a German professor and himself, and that he personally had forgotten the explanation. I know your Lordships will be certain that in this case the noble Viscount is the analogy, not of his predecessor, but of the German professor. All I should like to ask is: Have His Majesty's Government any sort of contact with the German Government on the question of Danzig, or has that question been relegated for the moment, owing to its inflamatory character or for other reasons, to the category of the untouchable? Also—perhaps this is a question which it is not fair to address to His Majesty's Government, but for what it is worth—can we hope that it will at some time be made plain to the Italian Government that, provided we can be certain that the discussion of the reasonable elements in their case will not immediately open up unreasonable demands, then the French Government, upon whom I suppose the onus chiefly rests, will be prepared to discuss the reasonable elements in the Italian demand and will not repeat the mistake of 1918 and subsequent years and press home to the full what appears to them to be a temporary tactical advantage?

In general, and finally—perhaps this is an otiose question in the sense that the noble Viscount has already made the answer clear—will His Majesty's Government continue to make clear to the world that at the right moment we are prepared to negotiate out of strength? Do His Majesty's Government realise that in a sense it is possible for the Prime Minister to negotiate with the peoples of the world over the heads even of their own Dictators? If we make it clear that a reasonable settlement can be expected once the method of violence has been abandoned, it might well become impossible for a Dictator to persuade his people to pay the terrible price of a world war for what there was evidence for believing they might substantially secure without paying that price. I think the mistake of the intransigents, with whom the noble Viscount is bound sooner or later to have to come into conflict, is that when they say Germany or Italy they think Hitler or Mussolini, and because they think it impossible to deal with Herr Hitler or Signor Mussolini, they persuade themselves that it is impossible to enter into reasonable relations with either of the great countries over which those rulers preside. Yet by far the most powerful force in the world to-day, far more powerful than Herr Hitler or Signor Mussolini, or Mr. Roosevelt, or Mr. Chamberlain himself, is, as has been said, the passionate desire of the common people of this world to be spared the ordeal of another Armageddon. To that force I believe the British Prime Minister, and the Foreign Secretary by his side, should appeal. I only hope and pray that when the time comes, whatever language the Dictators may be using, the Prime Minister will speak to the peoples of the world over the heads of their rulers.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Darnley, for emphasizing the need for direct negotiation between nations as the essential alternative to force, and as a solution to the points on which the nations are at variance. I would like for a few moments to consider the atmosphere and the spirit which would seem to be most essential to the steps preliminary to any such negotiations, and if the general policy of peace-making of the Government is to have any real chance of success. I was horrified, on talking last Sunday to a friend just back from Germany, to learn that, among those whom he had met at any rate, there was a general impression that we in this country were determined to thwart the economic life and development of that country as a first-class Power in the world. As a result a real feeling of bitterness and hatred was arising among them, and the prevalence of such feeling as has already been referred to by the noble Viscount is also apparent from the speech made by Herr Hitler on Sunday. Therefore it is all the more incumbent on us in this country to remove that misunderstanding, which may have really tragic results, and we should set ourselves to study and to understand the points of view and the aims and real needs of other nations. I believe that an interchange of visits by influential and impartial persons might help us too, for the misunderstandings are mutual. The results of such visits must, however, be fully stated and frankly accepted.

We can do a great deal towards removing the causes of these misunderstandings by setting ourselves deliberately to abandon the attitude of moral superiority—rather like that of a schoolmaster—which we are only too apt to assume. Our own history is far too vulnerable for such an attitude to be either justifiable or effective, and it would be far wiser and more honest for us to admit our own past mistakes and share of responsibility and, as the noble Viscount indicated, show ourselves genuinely willing to co-operate in order that others may have abundance of life, even though this may well entail some sacrifice to ourselves, at any rate for a time. In the world as God made it there is enough for all if hate, greed and the lust for power could be eliminated, and I am fully convinced that the real needs of nations will not, on impartial examination, be found to conflict. Each has an equal right to the fullest possible development as a member of one family under the conditions and in the position peculiar to each. I was extremely grateful for the statement of Lord Halifax that we were very willing to consider any natural economic development of the German people, and I believe that a great many people in this country would welcome any arrangement which, while removing the haunting fear of starvation from German mothers, would provide equally for the future economic development of any neighbouring nation.

There are signs that a new spirit is already beginning to permeate the world. I was particularly struck with the telegram sent by British business leaders to American business men on the occasion of the National Assembly for Moral Rearmament which met last Sunday in Washington. It ran: Realising that the true function of industry, commerce and trade is to supply the material needs of mankind, we desire to co-operate with you to abolish economic warfare, to establish the standards of moral rearmament in commercial transactions, to restore confidence in the machinery of business, and thus to build on sure foundations a saner and a kindlier word. Another message from three members of the Dutch Cabinet says: Moral rearmament will enable the leaders of nations to consider, unitedly and serenely, problems that threaten vital interests, in order to remove the hindrances to world reconstruction, building bridges between man and man, faction and faction, nation and nation. I could quote much more evidence to show that this new spirit is already beginning to work in the world but I will not take up your Lordships' time.

It is instanced by the widespread response made to the call to prayer by the most reverend Primate. It permeates the gracious message by our own King on Empire Day. I feel that I myself, and perhaps all of us who are now dealing with international affairs, may well take heart and courage from the special word addressed to those who are still young, with its emphasis on life being a great adventure in which each of us can be a pioneer, and the key to all true progress lying in faith, hope and love. Is not this an indication of a real return to the principles of Christian thought and action, which the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, pointed out in the last debate on foreign policy in this House were essential for any progress both in personal and in international relations—a statement for which I, and many others, were profoundly grateful? It is not for me to give any detailed proposals of the kind of solution that can come from the application of these principles, and from the growth of this spirit, and the spread of this atmosphere, but I am convinced that any such proposal put forward by His Majesty's Government, in their full knowledge of the facts and circumstances, will meet with deep and widespread response and support, not only in this country but in many other countries of the world. It has been well said that peace is not the absence of fighting but the absence of enmity, not the absence of war, but the presence of God and can only come from Him. Thus the call to all those of us who love God, King and country, and the particular task of our country, at this time, is surely to be so in touch with God and with His unfailing wisdom and almighty power, as to be enabled to give to the world His plan for a just and lasting peace.


My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Mottistone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.